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Abraham Lincoln's 


Excerpts from newspapers and other 


From the files of the 
Lincoln Financial Foundation Collection 

"7/2^ 08^.02^61 

Bulletin of the Lincoln National Life Foundation ----- Dr. Louis A. Warren, Editor 
Published each week by The Lincoln National Life Insurance Company, Fort Wayne, Indiana 

Number 926 


January 6, 1947 


The calendar establishes the fact that Christmas Day 
and New Year's Day always come just exactly one week 
apart. Their proximity to each other, however, has not 
prevented, year by year, one of the most startling transi- 
tions from the sublime to the ridiculous in human be- 
havior occurring among civilized people. The same voice 
that on December 25th caroled "Glory to God in the 
Highest," seven days later on January 1st strikes up 
the bibulous strain, "God only knows how dry I am." 
The spiritual uplift of the Christmas season is sunk in 
the moral abandon of the New Year's festivities. Thus a 
time honored symbol of "turning over a new leaf" with 
the coming of the new year has almost been lost to this 
present generation and with it there has disappeared the 
custom of making worthy new year's resolutions. 

Abraham Lincoln lived in a day when much attention 
was given to the idea of character building through self 
discipline. School books, the press, popular reading 
matter, and especially juvenile publications were stress- 
ing the importance of moral stability. Lincoln to a very 
large extent was the product of the preachments he found 
in Murray's English Reader, Scott's Lessons, Aesop's 
Fables, and similar texts which began to diminish with 
the passing of the McGuffey's Reader period. 

Many descriptive attributes have been used in re- 
ferring to the Emancipator. One characterization which 
would be especially appropriate to observe at the be- 
ginning of the new year is "The Resolute Lincoln." For 
many years the editor of Lincoln Lore searched for 
some outstanding innate or acquired tendency which 
above all others might be considered most responsible 
for his rise to fame. At last there was discovered among 
the many references to Lincoln's boyhood days this 
memoir which reveals the spark that motivated him. This 
statement, by one who for a while lived in the same 
Indiana cabin home with Abraham, is of supreme im- 

"He was ambitious and determined, and when he at- 
tempted to excell man or boy his whole soul and his 
energies were bent on doing it, and he in this generally, 
almost always, accomplished his ends." 

One of Lincoln's New Year's resolutions in 1841, 
however, seems to have gone awry as he referred to 
this day as, "The fatal first of January." He wrote a 
pathetic letter to his friend Speed with reference to this 
broken resolution in which he said: 

"Before I resolve one thing or the other, I must 
regain my confidence in my own ability to keep my 
resolves when they are made. In that ability you know 
I once prided myself as the only, or at least the chief 
gem of my character; that gem I lost — how, and where, 
you too will know. I have not yet regained it; and until 
I do, I cannot trust myself in any matter of much im- 

In this statement Lincoln acknowledges that the 
virtue which he had tried best to cultivate with some 
degree of success was "resoluteness." We are convinced 
that Lincoln soon recovered the "lost gem" of his char- 

acter, as it certainly finds expression, time and time 
again in later years when he stands firm on occasions 
where the average man would have been swept from 
his moorings. 

Lincoln revealed the very essence of his own resolute 
attitude in the contents of three letters which he wrote 
to young men who needed encouragement in their con- 
templated tasks. One letter was written in 1855, an- 
other in 1860, and a third in 1862. 

Isom Reavis wanted to study law in the office of 
Abraham Lincoln and wrote to Mr. Lincoln about the 
possibilities of so doing. Mr. Lincoln replied that he was 
away too much of the time for a young man to "read 
law with me advantageously" but did offer him some 
sound advice in these words: 

"If you are resolutely determined to make a lawyer 
of yourself, the thing is more than half done already. . . . 
Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed 
is more important than any one thing." 

Mr. Lincoln's son Robert had a friend at Exeter 
Academy by the name of George Latham who had failed 
in the Harvard entrance examinations. On July 22, 1860 
in the midst of the presidential campaign the Republican 
nominee wrote a letter of encouragement to George from 
which these excerpts are made. 

"It is a certain truth that you can enter and graduate 
in Harvard University: and having made the attempt 
you must succeed in it. Must is the word. . . . You cannot 
fail, if you resolutely determine you will not." 

Mr. Basler in his recent book on Abraham Lincoln — 
His Speeches and Writings comments on the above: "A 
remarkable glimpse into Lincoln's inner self is revealed 
in this letter. More succinctly and poignantly than any 
other statement, it reveals the quality of spirit which 
underlies all that Lincoln achieved." 

We wish Mr. Basler might have included in his com- 
pilation, the letter which President Lincoln wrote on 
June 28, 1862, in the midst of his busy executive tasks, 
to a discouraged cadet, Quinten Campbell, whom he had 
never met. It seems to indicate the spirit of punch and 
backbone as much as the Latham letter. Lincoln wrote 
in part: 

"Stick to the resolution you have taken to procure a 
military education. . . . adhere to your purpose and you 
will soon feel as well as you ever did. — On the contrary 
if you falter and give up, you will lose the power of 
keeping any resolution, . . . stick to your purpose." 

If we reached out into the field of Lincoln axioms we 
would find many expressions revealing this same spirit 
of determination. To a group of colored men he said on 
one occasion: "You are intelligent, and know that suc- 
cess does not so much depend on external help or on self- 
reliance. Much therefore depends upon yourselves." 

The "phenomenal but™gradual advancement of the 
boy born in a cabin and reared on the frontiers could 
not adequately be appreciated without some new year's 
portrait of The Resolute Lincoln.